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How to Live with Extended Family for a Week

Dear Christopher,

For the first time in years you guys were here for the holidays.  A whole week together with you both and with the children.  I was very excited to celebrate Christmas on our home turf.  All the years we were with you in Seattle were great.  I love your Seattle family.  Doug and Paul always make us feel welcome.  The Christmas Eve celebration with the twelve fish dishes is nothing short of outstanding.  But Christmas at home is very special to me.  Aunt Judy and I often talk about the days when you and your brother were young and those big Christmas celebrations with the grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. Your cousin Lillian says she misses it terribly.  Yes, I know, I know.  Back then Aunt Judy and I did our share of complaining about all the work we had to do.  But truth be told, we miss those times now.

When your grandmother was alive I always felt bad leaving her on the holiday.  Yet I wanted very much to spend time with you and Patrick.  I wanted so much to be part of your children’s memories of Christmas.  What a treat it was to watch them run down the stairs on Christmas morning to open their presents.  Then we adults could laze about over coffee and pancakes and chat and eat cookies. But having the holiday in our home really was a thrill. I was so excited about that.  Kept telling my friends that the kids were coming here for the first time in years. (Yes, you are still my kid). I even got a real tree.  Bought lights and decorations because I had jettisoned the old ones after so many years away. Like celebrations of old Aunt Judy baked what seemed like endless cookies.  I planned a couple of big gatherings at our home.  We had some celebratory cocktails together, just the four of us, after the kids went to bed.  It was a great holiday from my perspective, despite frigid weather and a cancelled return flight to Seattle.  I was worried that staying an extra day and scrambling to find another flight back home would put you all off Christmas back east.  But it was fun to have an extra day together.  Those crazy, complicated holiday celebrations of old have a new spin, but thankfully you all got back in time for school and work. I am hoping and planning for next year already.

This time when Aunt Judy and I reminisce about holidays we did not rehash old complaints about the cooking and cleaning to prepare.  We did not talk about how now our family is so small and our celebrations so few. This time we genuinely rejoiced as we realized the joy in approximating those grand old holiday traditions once again.

Love MOM

Home for the Holidays

Dear Mom,

For the last four or five years, I have enjoyed spending the Christmas holidays at home in Seattle.  You remember how the month of December can go: a mad rush of shopping, baking, wrapping gifts, and social events, so I didn’t miss not having to pack and worry about the stress of traveling back East with two young kids.  Those few Christmases we spent in Buffalo and on Long Island when Isabella was young were stressful.  Traveling cross-country with an infant and then toddler was not easy, and as new dads we were floundering a bit, especially me, as we struggled to figure out what the hell to DO.  All I wanted to do was try to get Isabella to take a nap and sleep through the night so that I could do the same.  All that it seemed that anyone else wanted to do was hold, tickle, and sing to her.  It was exhausting.  I was exhausted.

So these last several years were much less taxing.  I enjoyed not leaving Seattle, and am glad that while both kids were young they woke up on Christmas morning in their own bed, with our tree, and a day full of putting together Legos and puzzles and playing games in our own house. We settled into our lovely Christmas Eve tradition with Doug and Paul and our extended Seattle family. When you and dad visited, Christmas day was low-key and relaxing. There was a year that you didn’t visit and we took the kids up to the pass to go skiing, returning home to leftovers for dinner. It felt like we were creating new traditions.

I will admit, though, that I have been dreaming of those white Christmases of my youth.  It’s true that the weather here in Seattle doesn’t feel, most years, like Christmas. But there are other, deeper, ways that Christmas is just not quite the same. While the world turned white and frigid and foreboding outside, as an extended family we always found ways to come together, have some great meals, and renew our connections with one another. As a kid, I looked forward to seeing our cousins who we never saw enough of the rest of the year.  There was the traditional Polish wegelia, Gram’s lavish Christmas eve feast, then the large gatherings we hosted on Christmas day, where you and Dad and Aunt Judy seemed to be in constant motion preparing, serving, and cleaning up from a huge spread, all while Mark and I rehearsed that year’s original play in the basement with our cousins. We even managed to connect with the neighbors, taking pains to analyze the year’s snowfall and then make our plans for the day after Christmas, when we would shovel off the backyard, hose it down and skate.

Now, with the kids a bit older, and Jordan easily persuaded that Santa would find him in New York, we decided this would be the year to give the east coast another try for the holidays. Travel with the kids is not so stressful anymore; lots of trips when they were young did pay off in that they are seasoned pros, but also thank you portable screen devices. Accepting the challenge of a two-city, two-family two-week trip in the middle of winter does still have its challenges. Many of our friends here thought we had lost our minds.  And after the first few days on Long Island, I think both Patrick and I thought they might have been right. Within the first 24 hours of our arrival, we had brunch at Krista’s, a trip into the city for a Broadway musical and dinner, and then right on into shopping and cooking for Christmas eve dinner.  Looking forward to two weeks of that—planning, shopping, cooking, sightseeing, and most of all visits with friends and family—was overwhelming. What had we done? Why had we done it? This wouldn’t be relaxing.  Patrick said he was resenting the trip by day two, when it dawned on him that his vacation from work would not provide an opportunity to relax and recharge.

What neither of us expected was how much fun it would be. Instead of succumbing to the exhaustion, we managed to find a groove and just go with it all. Embrace the chaos.  Give in to the insanity.  Eat another cookie, another great meal, and have a cocktail. Thanks to kind, adoring grandparents (and again those screens!), we were able to sleep in most mornings. We actually did feel, if not relaxed and recharged, at least no worse for the wear.

After 20 years in Seattle, two things stand out: the East coast, with its bone-cold, snowy winters (and hot, humid summers) is still a part of my blood, and I will still feel a deep, enduring connection with my family there, despite the distance. We returned to Seattle revived and fulfilled. We missed out on our tradition for Christmas Eve with our Seattle family, but will see them often in the weeks to come.  We can’t live both here and there, and the fact that we feel like we miss out on family one way or another is a very, very fortunate gift to open for the new year.

Love Christopher